By Joe Bello
May 8, 2012
On Monday the Robin Hood Foundation hosted a “National Veterans Summit” on board the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum here in New York City. A broad range of leaders in business, media, government, and others joined in at this event, including Tom Brokaw, Jon Stewart, Brian Williams, Admiral Mike Mullen, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta, to name a few.
For those who don’t know, the Robin Hood Foundation was started in 1988 by hedge fund investor Paul Tudor Jones and has grown to be the largest poverty fighting organization in New York City. At their annual benefit last May, the foundation launched a special “veterans” campaign and asked donors to fund an initiative to help veterans living in poverty in New York City. Those donors’ in turn created a fund of over $13 million dollars to be spent over the next several years.
So far the foundation has doled out more than $4.7 million dollars to a variety of organizations, including The Doe Fund, Jericho Project and CUNY’s Project PROVE (Project for Return and Opportunity in Veterans’ Education). In their 23-year history they have distributed over $1 billion dollars to organizations that impact the lives of people in need.
Needless to say, they do great work.
So it was a surprise when a number of us in the veteran’s community “discovered” this summit when Robin Hood started posting information about it thru their social media networks. Their first posting was on Twitter on April 30th followed by a Facebook posting on May 1st. What made this confusing to many was that the event itself was scheduled for May 7th.
This would mean that either they've been putting together this event in secret for some time or their horrible organizers. I’ll go with the first choice. So the question is: How and why would the leading poverty organization in New York City put together a National Veterans Summit (basically under the radar), invite only those who they wanted there, then highly publicize it while telling anyone who asked for more information that the summit was sold out?
There’s no real answer here, as only those at Robin Hood know why. However, some veterans have speculated that this event was put together in advance of their annual fundraiser next week at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. As Crain’s New York Business reported:
“While most charities offer up a rubber-chicken dinner at their fundraising galas and are lucky if they bring in $2 million, Robin Hood's annual shindig attracts the biggest names in entertainment and grosses tens of millions of dollars—more than any other charity in the world, fundraising executives say.”
Regardless, as many of us have witnessed here in New York City, especially in regards to not-for-profits, veteran issues are a hot political and monetary issue right now, with grants and funding available, particularly in the areas of homelessness, education and mental health. It's gotten so big that Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs was quoted at yesterday’s event saying: “Maybe there shouldn't be 40K nonprofits working on vets, maybe 4K done to scale; take 10% of best.”
While I personally disagree, I acknowledge that he does make a valid argument and at some point in the future, as we move away from the legacy of Iraq and the on-going war in Afghanistan, the money will dry up and many not-for-profits are going to have difficult decisions to make.
However, in taking nothing away from Monday's event and whatever will come from it, this appeared to have been no more than a "leadership" event, where the top 1% got together to listen and network, while Robin Hood got to promote itself, the work that it does and what it’s doing to help veterans. From that perspective, it's a win-win.
It’s just a shame that, like the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 99% got locked out and could have contributed something relevant and meaningful to this discussion, particularly those local advocates who work “in the streets” on veteran issues on a daily basis. I can only hope that the Robin Hood Foundation will take this into consideration the next time they create one of these events.
But until then, veterans are left to ponder how an event like Monday's summit can build a sense of shared purpose among individuals of many ages and skills sets (which is especially true in the veteran’s community)? What is our consensus and shared purpose? What veterans don’t need is an abdacratic style of leadership, which is what Robin Hood did with Monday's event, and we don’t need an Occupy Wall Street movement, although it appears we're moving that way. We need to come together as a community, discuss our issues openly and show our “strength in value.” Only then will we begin to see some real movement towards solving veteran issues.
(Next week: Part 2: Robin Hood, Mayor Bloomberg and the Workforce1 initiative.)